NASA center director: If Trump pivots to the Moon, we’re “set up” to do it

Enlarge / Ellen Ochoa, left, with Fred Haise, center, and David Alexander at Rice University's Apollo 13 event in September. (credit: Eric Berger)

Ellen Ochoa is a four-time astronaut who has served as director of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston since 2013. As part of that job, Ochoa oversees a space center that trains astronauts for spaceflight missions, houses Mission Control, and manages the International Space Station and Orion spacecraft programs.

In recent years, the space center has also played a central role in preparing for and publicizing NASA's "Journey to Mars," the poorly funded effort by the agency to send humans to the red planet in the 2030s. Orion has been touted as a centerpiece of this strategy, and astronauts have talked about using what they've learned on the station and applying it toward going to Mars.

Now, however, key Trump appointees are beginning to talk about sending humans to the Moon before Mars. The administration's choice to serve as executive secretary of the National Space Council, Scott Pace, favors a return to the Moon. So does Trump's choice to lead NASA, Jim Bridenstine. It seems likely that, at some point, NASA's human destination will switch from "Mars" to the "Moon, then Mars," echoing the space policy first established during the administration of George W. Bush.

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